A Story of Writing

New category: biography

I found this contest in this blog. Reading about contests such as this appeals to my oft-maligned (by myself) self-esteem, evoking dreams of glory and money since I first learned to push a pen. Incidentally, the only writing contest I won was when I was in my first year of high school. I wrote a Filipino poem on the spot about a boy who ate too much of his favorite food he angered the gods of nutrition who summoned the demons of indigestion to punish him, or something to that effect. I wrote it on a whim, and I forgot to treasure it. All I clearly remember was that I forgot to remember it.

I first thought about writing when I was in second grade. There was a school newspaper and naturally, students were invited to send in their work aside from the various news articles gathered by the student journalists. One month, I was envious when I read the name of a classmate on the byline of a poem. Back then, I hadn’t the faintest idea how to pronounce the word poem. I was frustrated further when I didn’t know the meaning of legacy, the word she chose for her topic. I was the little ignorant boy.

See, at that age I learned to be ashamed of myself. Early in life I was hailed as a prodigy by neighbors and relatives. I learned to read easily (Different from easily learned to read, I mean at an early age, I was reading for pleasure.) and remembered a lot of what I saw and heard. After spending my preschool days in the community daycare, I was enrolled in an exclusive Catholic school where boys are accepted only until the fourth grade. One of the first things I remembered in that school was that I was too poor to afford all of the required books. My parents bought me the workbooks, but I have to borrow textbooks from my classmates. Once, we were required to answer a seatwork in the textbook, and since I had none, my teacher borrowed one from the library for me and had me answer it outside the classroom, because my classmates were already finished and she might think I would disrupt the class. Sitting in a chair outside the classroom in a corridor for thirty minutes is hell for a first-grader. Let me tell you, I forgot who that teacher was, and for me, that is revenge enough.

Yes, at that age I was already class-conscious. Some more embarrassments related to my easily excitable digestive system contributed to my shyness that was only removed when I was in high school.

And for a shy, poor boy, perhaps I was then looking for recognition. My daydreams consisted of being Shaider, Indiana/Crocodile Jones, Combatron and Blue-3. I harbored thoughts of being a doctor, and I scanned magazines and picture books looking at things, mentally saying, I like this thing, I want this for my house someday, I prefer this car to this truck. It was one of the loneliest games a kid can play.

So, imagine my mind when I realized the possibilities of being a purveyor of literature. Yes, I admit I was vain. My reasons for taking up writing was selfish. When I got home after reading the poem My Legacy written by my classmate, I went to our bookshelf, standing on a stool, and pulled out the thick and heavy English-Tagalog dictionary. Then I read it. I resolved to memorize the meanings of the words in the dictionary. Later I tried to write poems and stories. I was not yet exposed to good stories aside from the Bible and the hand-me-down textbooks used by my aunt, so I tried to write poems according to the Batibot style. I think you know about the Ako’y tutula, mahabang-mahaba popularized by Pong Pagong. That was all I had. And I was terrible.

But then I had the material. I had my vocabulary. In my family I was again a conversation piece among neighbors and family members because I attempted to memorize the dictionary. I moved on to encyclopedias, going to neighbors’ houses to read. I read and read all the time. I was frequently nicknamed walking dictionary, and it was better than my other nickname, napabayaan sa kusina. I was very good in spelling, and I entered and won spelling contests until high school, with colleges rarely having spelling contests.

I never forgot about wanting to write. In the fifth grade I was in another school, and my friend showed me a poem that he claimed he had written himself. It was a peculiar poem to me, and it had a Latin word as a title. Later, I learned that the poem was Invictus, and it was actually by William Henley, and I should have bonked my friend over the head for that prank, but I was hooked. I found the beauty of words.

I began to write. A lot were series of couplets, vulgar and simple. But they were my words, and I kept them for a long time. I also fund myself a muse, a crush, to whom I dedicated a lot of my corny verses. Like a beginning writer, I indulged in long and complicated words. I remembered my time at the dictionary and poured out myself in similes and metaphors.

***

Now, I rarely write poems. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason or time, but it seems that my Muse left me. Perhaps it was when I got cynical. Perhaps it was when I gave myself to Science. Perhaps it was when I discovered the internet.

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